Fall TV: Generic titles, weak crop, but a few shows shine

There was a time when the networks made the effort to give even their most legendarily awful shows evocative, unforgettable titles.

"My Mother the Car." "Manimal." "Homeboys in Outer Space."

This fall, it’s as though they simply gave up and outsourced most of that duty to Crazy Dave’s Discount Title Emporium.

Intern: So, ABC has a prime-time soap opera about country singers, politics, greed, sex, love, ambition, secrets. There’s really a lot going on.

Crazy Dave: Where’s it set?

Intern: Nashville.

Crazy Dave: There’s your title.

Intern: "Nashville"? But, sir, we just named the CBS drama about former sheriff Ralph Lamb, his battles with the Mafia and the rise of the Strip "Vegas," even though there’s already been a "Vega$" and a "Las Vegas."

Crazy Dave: We don’t get paid to think, kid. What’s next?

Intern: An NBC comedy about guys with kids.

Crazy Dave: "Guys With Kids."

Intern: The CW has a drama focusing on a young M.D. named Emily Owens who’s trying to fit in and …

Crazy Dave: "Emily Owens, M.D."

Intern: So the Fox drama about a doctor for the mob. "Mob Doctor"?

Crazy Dave: Son, we have to have SOME standards. "THE Mob Doctor."

Despite their horrible titles, two of those series, "Vegas" and "Nashville," are among the cream of this year’s admittedly weak crop.

But just as bad titles don’t necessarily mean bad shows, great titles can be hard to live up to. For instance, ABC’s supernatural "666 Park Avenue."

Then there are titles that are just more trouble than they’re worth.

Even coming 14 years after "Will & Grace," when Ann Romney of all people declares "Modern Family" her favorite show, a comedy about a gay couple hiring a surrogate mother was bound to upset certain segments of the population. But by calling it "The New Normal," NBC might as well have gone to the homes of every member of the religious right and set their marriage certificates on fire.

Regardless of their titles, here’s a look at the new fall series that start this week unless otherwise noted. And, as always, times and dates are subject to change.



10 p.m., KTNV-TV, Channel 13 (starts Sept. 30)

The stars: Terry O’Quinn ("Lost"), Vanessa Williams, Rachael Taylor ("Charlie’s Angels"), Dave Annable ("Brothers & Sisters")

What it is: A young Midwestern couple (Taylor, Annable) is hired to manage Manhattan’s posh Drake apartments, whose mysterious owner (O’Quinn) will grant any wish in exchange for your soul.

What it’s like: "Rosemary’s Landlord." Few people can blur the line between friendly and full-on wackadoo quite like O’Quinn. But while it has a killer premise – figuratively and literally – the pilot is neither scary enough nor campy enough to live up to its potential.



8:30 p.m., KLAS-TV, Channel 8 (starts Sept. 24)

The stars: Michael Urie ("Ugly Betty"), David Krumholtz ("Numb3rs"), Sophia Bush ("One Tree Hill"), Brandon Routh ("Superman Returns")

What it is: Two friends and business partners – one straight (Krumholtz), one gay (Urie) – have their relationship tested when one of them gets engaged in this comedy from the creators of "Will & Grace."

What it’s like: Gay jokes, Jewish jokes, ethnic caricatures – it’s "Will & Grace" minus the subtlety. Everyone involved seems acutely aware they’re on a sitcom, and they act accordingly. Still, compared to the other comedies CBS has rolled out lately, it feels downright sophisticated.


9 p.m., KVVU-TV, Channel 5

The stars: Jordana Spiro ("My Boys"), Zach Gilford ("Friday Night Lights"), William Forsythe ("Boardwalk Empire")

What it is: A young Chicago surgeon (Spiro) is forced to work off her brother’s gambling debt by being the on-call doctor to the Mafia.

What it’s like: Nearly as generic as its title. Neither the mob aspects nor the doctor aspects feel particularly authentic.


10 p.m., KSNV-TV, Channel 3

The stars: Billy Burke (the "Twilight" movies), Tracy Spiridakos (Syfy’s "Being Human"), Giancarlo Esposito ("Breaking Bad")

What it is: Fifteen years after every form of technology mysteriously stopped working forever, a band of survivors struggles to get through daily life without incurring the wrath of violent militias in this drama from J.J. Abrams and Eric Kripke ("Supernatural").

What it’s like: "Jericho" plus "Life After People" plus people. The pilot boasts stunning visuals, swashbuckling, even plenty of bow-and-arrow action for "Hunger Games" fans. And Esposito makes everything better. But as a series, it feels more likely to muster a solid five or six episodes than a solid five or six seasons.



8:30 p.m., Channel 5 (starts Sept. 25)

The stars: Dakota Johnson ("The Five-Year Engagement"), Nat Faxon ("Bad Teacher")

What it is: The life of a young single mother (Johnson) is upended by the arrival of her irresponsible but well-meaning brother (Faxon) in this comedy from the producers of "New Girl."

What it’s like: If "New Girl" could get away with calling itself "adorkable," this one’s "charkward" (charming + awkward). It’s both sweet and silly, which should make it the perfect bridge between "Raising Hope" and "New Girl."


9 p.m., Channel 3 (already airing)

The stars: Matthew Perry, Tony-winner Laura Benanti, Tyler James Williams ("Everybody Hates Chris")

What it is: A sports talk radio host (Perry) joins a grief-counseling support group after the death of his wife.

What it’s like: A less-ambitious "Community." Nothing about grief is inherently funny, but Perry does his best, Chandler Bing-ing about, willing the comedy to be better than it is.


9 p.m., KVCW-TV, Channel 33 (starts Oct. 16)

The stars: Mamie Gummer ("Off the Map"), Justin Hartley ("Smallville")

What it is: On her first day at a new internship, a young doctor (Gummer) is ready to put her awkward high school days behind her – until her high school nemesis shows up as a fellow intern.

What it’s like: "Grey’s Anatomy" for Dummies. Gummer, still best known as Meryl Streep’s daughter, has a promising future. Now all she needs is a promising series.


9:30 p.m., Channel 5 (starts Sept. 25)

The stars: Mindy Kaling ("The Office"), Chris Messina ("Damages")

What it is: A young OB/GYN (Kaling) obsessed with romantic comedies tries to get her disastrous personal and professional lives on track in this comedy created by Kaling.

What it’s like: Much like its heroine, it’s a hot mess trying to live up to its potential. Even though it’s more clever than laugh-out-loud funny, it fits perfectly as the final piece of Fox’s Tuesday-night offbeat-comedy puzzle.


9:30 p.m., Channel 3 (already airing)

The stars: Justin Bartha ("The Hangover"), Andrew Rannells ("The Book of Mormon"), Georgia King ("One Day"), Ellen Barkin

What it is: A gay couple (Bartha, Rannells) hires a Midwestern surrogate mother (King) in this comedy from "Glee’s" Ryan Murphy.

What it’s like: A third of "Modern Family" shoved through a megaphone. It’s certainly in your face, and it’s full of promise. Rannells’ dad-to-be could be the season’s breakout character. But given Murphy’s track record – "Nip/Tuck," "Glee," "American Horror Story" – it’s likely only a matter of time before everything goes off-the-rails insane.


10 p.m., Channel 8 (starts Sept. 25)

The stars: Dennis Quaid, Michael Chiklis, Carrie-Ann Moss ("The Matrix"), Jason O’Mara ("Terra Nova")

What it is: Sheriff Ralph Lamb (Quaid) clashes with a Chicago gangster (Chiklis) in 1960s Las Vegas in this drama from writer Nicholas Pileggi ("Goodfellas," "Casino").

What it’s like: The missing link between "Crime Story" and "CSI." It may sound like the latest comics-inspired genre mashup – "Cowboys vs. Mobsters" – but this (somewhat) true story fits snugly in the CBS wheelhouse. The network should just go ahead, renew it for the next five years and eliminate any suspense.



8 p.m., Channel 33 (starts Oct. 10)

The stars: Stephen Amell ("Private Practice"), Katie Cassidy ("Melrose Place")

What it is: After being marooned on an island for five years, billionaire playboy Oliver Queen (Amell) returns as a masked vigilante to clean up Starling City in this adaptation of the Green Arrow comic books.

What it’s like: A male-skewing "Revenge" – down to the daddy issues, the checklist of enemies and the fancy wooden box. Queen sure is agile for a castaway. Where did he wash ashore, Parkour Island? But he still comes across as Tony Stark without the charisma. The whole thing feels cheap and a little off, as though it were made for first-run syndication – or Canada.


8 p.m., Channel 3 (Sept. 26)

The stars: Justin Kirk ("Weeds"), JoAnna Garcia Swisher ("Reba"), Crystal the monkey ("The Hangover II")

What it is: A top veterinarian (Kirk) who has trouble relating to people is forced to work for his ex-girlfriend (Garcia Swisher) when she inherits his hospital in this critter-centric comedy.

What it’s like: "House" with animals – if only "Animal House" weren’t already taken. Kirk’s shenanigans are entertaining and all, but, for better or worse, the series clearly belongs to Crystal. It will go only as far as her tiny, hairy shoulders can carry it.


8:30 p.m., Channel 3 (Sept. 26)

The stars: Anthony Anderson ("Law & Order"), Jesse Bradford ("The West Wing"), Zach Cregger ("The Whitest Kids U’Know")

What it is: Three 30-something dads struggle to balance their social lives with their parental duties in this comedy from executive producer Jimmy Fallon.

What it’s like: Genial, good-natured and free of laughs. Coming years after NBC abandoned traditional, filmed-before-a-live-studio-audience sitcoms – except for last season’s dreadful "Whitney" – this just feels hopelessly dated.


8:30 p.m. Oct. 3, Channel 13 (debuts at 9:30 p.m. Sept. 26)

The stars: Lenny Venito ("The Sopranos"), Jami Gertz

What it is: A family moves into a gated New Jersey community populated by aliens from the planet Zabvron who’ve taken on the names of famous athletes.

What it’s like: The sort of thing that would be clever and entertaining if it were presented as an experimental theater piece. You have to admire the ambition. But the execution? Yikes!


10 p.m., Channel 3 (starts Oct. 10)

The stars: Jesse Spencer ("House"), Taylor Kinney ("The Vampire Diaries"), Eamonn Walker ("Oz")

What it is: The leaders of Firehouse 51’s Truck (Spencer) and Rescue (Kinney) units spend nearly as much time fighting each other as they do fighting fires in this drama from executive producer Dick Wolf.

What it’s like: Not so hot. Kinney has charisma to burn – so to speak – and Walker adds gravitas to anything he touches. It’s the sort of show you can enjoy without really having to pay attention. Unlike the 1871 blaze, though, no one will be referring to this as the great "Chicago Fire."


10 p.m., Channel 13 (starts Oct. 10)

The stars: Connie Britton ("Friday Night Lights"), Hayden Panettiere ("Heroes"), Powers Boothe

What it is: A country-music legend (Britton) clashes with her powerful father (Boothe) and a young, upstart rival (Panettiere) in this Southern soap from writer Callie Khouri ("Thelma & Louise").

What it’s like: "All About Eve" with banjos. There’s plenty of fertile ground to explore here, and Britton is one of TV’s best. If she can hold the deliriously demented "American Horror Story" together, she should have no problem shining here.



8 p.m., Channel 13 (starts Sept. 27)

The stars: Andre Braugher ("Men of a Certain Age"), Scott Speedman ("Felicity"), Robert Patrick ("The Unit")

What it is: When a submarine’s commanding officers (Braugher, Speedman) question a suspicious nuclear-strike order, they’re fired upon by other U.S. forces, branded as traitors and forced to seek refuge on a remote island in this drama from Shawn Ryan ("The Shield").

What it’s like: "20,000 Questions Under the Sea." With a sprawling cast, plenty of conflict and oodles of intrigue, this has the highest upside of any of the new fall series. Its greatest asset: the power of Braugher.


9 p.m., Channel 33 (starts Oct. 11)

The stars: Kristin Kreuk ("Smallville"), Jay Ryan ("Terra Nova")

What it is: A homicide detective (Kreuk) and a doctor (Ryan) who’s been in hiding for a decade after reportedly being killed in action in Afghanistan are drawn to each other in this very loose adaptation of the 1980s CBS drama.

What it’s like: "Beauty and the Abercrombie & Fitch Model with an Unfortunate Scar on His Cheek." Sure, he hulks out from time to time, thanks to some mumbo jumbo about government supersoldiers. But Ryan’s Vincent is hardly a beast. Like the rest of the show, he’s just poorly written, stiffly acted and ill conceived.


10 p.m., Channel 8 (starts Sept. 27)

The stars: Jonny Lee Miller ("Eli Stone"), Lucy Liu ("Ally McBeal")

What it is: Recovering drug addict Sherlock Holmes (Miller) solves crimes in modern-day Manhattan with the help of his sober companion, Joan Watson (Liu), in this reimagining of the classic characters.

What it’s like: "The Mentalist" with an accent. The scruffy, tatted-up Miller does an admirable job, and he’s playing an interesting character. That character just doesn’t feel anything remotely like Sherlock Holmes.



8:30 p.m., Channel 13 (starts Nov. 2)

The stars: Reba McEntire, Lily Tomlin

What it is: After her country superstar husband’s many affairs become public, a Nashville housewife (McEntire) uproots her family and moves them to her soon-to-be ex’s love nest in Malibu, Calif., in this sitcom from the makers of "Reba."

What it’s like: Closer to hokum than Yoakam. What, oh what did Tomlin do to get herself wrapped up in this hopelessly dated, mugging-for-the-cameras mess that plays like something that escaped from 1992?


9 p.m., Channel 8 (starts Sept. 28)

The stars: Janet Montgomery ("Human Target"), Kyle MacLachlan

What it is: A young attorney (Montgomery) uses her street smarts to compete with her more polished colleagues at a top Manhattan firm.

What it’s like: "My Cousin Vinny’s Good Wife is a Working Girl." Martina Garretti (Montgomery) solves crimes using Jersey logic – finding alibis based on nail polish, hair coloring and tight jeans – in this light but likable drama that feels like a long-lost Sandra Bullock movie.


No new series are scheduled.

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